Heed veterans’ warning

second edit

The letter written by over 150 armed forces veterans to President Ram Nath Kovind last week requesting him to take steps to stop politicisation of the forces is timely and relevant. The veterans include three former army chiefs, four former navy chiefs and a former air chief, and other senior officers from all three services in all parts of the country. By conveying their common concern to the President, who is the supreme commander of the armed forces, they have acted true to the values and traditions of the forces. It is unfortunate that a controversy has arisen about the letter as three officers — two former service chiefs and a former vice-chief of army staff — stated later that they had not endorsed the letter. Proof of their consent is in the public realm, though for some reasons they chose to deny that they had endorsed the letter. 

The veterans want the President to ensure that political parties do not use the military, its symbols and actions for electoral purposes and to further their political agendas. Though they do not mention any party, it is clear that their concern is over some recent comments and claims made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, members of his government and other BJP leaders. The prime minister, addressing an election rally in Maharashtra last week, asked first time voters to dedicate their votes to those who carried out the Balakot airstrike, which was another way of asking for votes on the basis of the IAF action. The letter specifically mentioned UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s description of the forces as “Modi ji ki sena’’. Apart from the unacceptable practice of leaders taking credit for military operations, the letter also referred to the use of military images and posters and even uniforms in election campaigns. The dominant theme of the BJP’s election campaign is national security, and it has blatantly misused the name of the armed forces by claiming credit for the Balakot airstrike. The veterans have noted that this trend, which they apprehend might increase in the coming days, would impinge on the morale and efficacy of the forces and directly affect national security and national integrity. 

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s response was to dub the letter as ‘fake news’ and to vilify the veterans as motivated and driven by vested interests. This is deplorable, and only shows that the leaders of the government and the BJP are not going to desist from the wrong and dangerous course they have embarked on. The party may or not gain from it, but the nation definitely is the loser. 

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